Jake Adam York
Interstates, Interchanges: Telling Souths
But you were not listening, because you knew it already, had learned, absorbed it already without the medium of speech somehow from having been born and living beside it, with it, as children will and do: so that what you father was saying did not tell you anything so much as it struck, word by word, the resonant strings of remembering?.
So is described Quentin Compson's experience of hearing (and re-hearing and ...) the story of the Sutpen family in Absalom, Absalom! The words come from Quentin's college roommate Shreve McCannon and from Quentin's father, whom Shreve ventriloquizes, and, in part, from Rosa Coldfield who first starts telling it to Quentin, whom Quentin's father voices, and ultimately from William Faulkner.
The story is community property, and the telling never establishes new ownership: it merely formalizes the holding of a common trust. And the novel works to make its readers believe, at least for the durance of the reading, that they, too, hold and have held the story of which the novel is merely a reminder.
The idea of the communal mind Faulkner develops here is haunting. It is also irresistible in part because the novel is so effective in developing the space within which we become parts of it, and in part because the idea (moving beyond the horizon of the text, perhaps having come from beyond it in the first place) defines the South for so many people even as it does for Shreve, Quentin's Canadian friend. People will say (I was "explained" recently after I gave a reading in Boise, Idaho) that Southernness abides somehow in an ineluctable connection to history, which all Southerners apparently have which suggests somehow that we all have the same history. It's a version of the solid South, the cultural idea that outlives the bygone political moment.
But however haunting and attractive the notion of such solidity is, however much we may maintain the conceptual validity of the category The South, much of our contemporary experience must complicate this beyond such simple deployments. Whether we eat at a McDonald's, exercising our membership in a decentralized and perpetually instantiated (and thereby re-centralized) American culture while a perfectly good local barbecue smokes down just across the two-lane, or at an Indian restaurant only blocks from the re-incinerated Margaret Mitchell house, there is something perpetually not-South about our Souths, something Southern still, but Southern in its own local way.
Which means that there's a great deal to say. That we are not so contiguous with the history and the place that we don't need telling. That writing is not simply reminder.
The poems in this issue of storySouth bear witness to this reality even as they bear witness to the stories that require them, even as they teach us those stories. These poems as in conversation with the South (and The South) even as they are in conversation with diaries, relatives (mothers, brothers, ancestors), themselves.
These poems model the conversation as they instantiate it. Though at times aggressively local Natasha Trethewey's "Storyville Diary" is focused squarely on a region of New Orleans, Jeffrey Franklin's "Where We Lay Down" within a screened porch these poems suggest the livelihood of true places, those locales Melville claimed were never to be found on any maps. These poems preserve those spaces where people become themselves, in conflict or exchange with, in continuance of, others.
And these poems preserve themselves by not becoming each other, by talking, however indirectly, over each other, even as they harmonize. So, they represent the great richness and diversity of our region, its ideas and ideologies, its music, its tongues, its width and breadth. We know the birthplace and birthtime of jazz, the farming world of Kentucky, the streets of modern Miami. We know many places and times in between.
These poems help us know. They tune us to the talk and invite our replies. They demand and satisfy the curiosity of Quentin Compson's fictional roommate Tell about the South. What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all?
For this, they say. For this, at least.
Jake Adam York is the poetry editor of storySouth.